A five-bedroom single family home was utterly destroyed by what started as a kitchen fire on Saturday, April 21, at about 6:30 pm and quickly roared through the house -— displacing the nine residents of the home.
Six adult men with autism and three full-time staff members lived in the house. “All were safely evacuated. It was frightening and tragic,” says Eden Chief Development Officer Melinda McAleer.
Eden, a not-for-profit organization based in Princeton with a mission to improve the lives of children and adults with autism, has about 90 adults in 27 assisted-living group homes in the area.
The Rocky Hill home at 94 Princeton Avenue was known as Noonan House, named for a Princeton community member and donor. The house has been secured with a chain link fence and the windows will be boarded up.
The residents are housed temporary in a local hotel and Eden is currently searching for a new residence that will meet the strict safety codes required by the NJ State Division of Developmental Disabilities.
“It’s too soon to tell if we will rebuild,” McAleer says.
Rocky Hill Fire Chief Todd Harris says his department received a call from the Somerset County 911 Dispatch at 6:32 pm on April 21 and that Rocky Hill Engine 531 was the first to arrive at the scene of the fire, at 6:35 pm — a three-minute response time.
“Upon arrival, we assured all individuals were safely out of the structure,” Harris says. “Fire presented out the front door and windows,” prompting him to call for a 2nd Alarm.
In addition to Rocky Hill, firefighters from eight stations responded, including: Montgomery Volunteer Fire Company Station 45 (off Griggstown Road); Montgomery Volunteer Company No 2 or Station 46, (off Route 518 in Blawenburg); Kingston Volunteer Fire Department; Griggstown Fire Company Station 35; as well as Princeton, Hopewell, and Flagtown.
Rocky Hill and Montgomery Township first aid squads were also at the scene to establish a firefighter rehab.
Chief Harris made the call to fight the fire using a “defensive operation,” meaning he kept everybody outside. “We had heavy fire conditions," he said, "the residents had been evacuated, and I didn’t want to risk a structural collapse on the men.”
Using the Kingsway Commons hydrant as a water source, firefighters used a ground monitor and 2.5-inch ground line hose with ladders to squirt the water into the house.
“We wrapped-up about 10:13 pm,” Harris said. Early the next morning, at 4:36 am, a structural collapse caused a re-ignite, he added.
Rocky Hill firefighters returned to the scene of the fire with Montgomery Station 46 of Blawenburg.
The roof had collapsed into the second floor, causing a second fire. Rocky Hill Fire Marshall Erik Mickelsen said “when you have a fire with that much devastation, it occasionally happens that you have a hot spot that reignites.”
Mickelsen praised Chief Harris’s decision to keep firefighters on the outside of the building. “He did not want to risk the lives of the firefighters by putting them inside an unsafe structure,” Mickelsen said.
New Jersey State Police were on the scene to help with crowd control, keeping onlookers from getting too close to the action, and directing traffic away from Princeton Avenue.
At press time, the Eden organization was setting up a fund to support the individuals displaced by the fire. To support the fund, visit www.edenautism.org.
“We thank our neighbors in Rocky Hill, the firefighters and police, and our professional staff for getting all six autistic adults out safely. ■